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NBC hires Steelers’ Ward; Let the criticism begin

It was reported by several Pittsburgh-Area and many national outlets that recently retired Steelers’ wide receiver Hines Ward will be ‘taking his talents’ to NBC where he will serve as an analyst for Sunday Night Football among other duties for the peacock network.

I’m not surprised at all that Ward will be a TV personality as I think many Steelers fans would have predicted this but what continues to amaze me (I know why but still…) is the amount of people inside the Steeler Nation that just don’t like Hines Ward and that’s putting it mildly.

My Twitter timeline was abuzz with comments that I would say were more than 50% negative of Ward being on television. Many wondering how quickly he would attack his former team or start whining about something related to the Steelers.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been a ‘Hines Ward guy’ since he was drafted by the Steelers. I’ve always appreciated guys who got every single ounce of ability out of themselves when there really wasn’t that much there to begin with compared to other NFL players.

I enjoyed the way Hines played the game and I certainly respect the struggle he had growing up, but I also understand why there are haters. There are always haters, but I get these folks and they have ample ammunition at their disposal.

Ward has always struggled with maturity and I think this plays a big part into why he is so polarizing. More than once he has come off sounding like a spoiled brat who didn’t get his way and no fan base likes to see that from its’ players especially its’ stars.

He openly questioned his quarterback’s toughness when Ben Roethlisberger was dealing with ‘concussion-like’ symptoms. It was unnecessary whether he felt that way or not. It was probably not something that would have been said now with all the talk of head injuries but it was said by Ward and it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Quarterbacks themselves in Pittsburgh are not exactly put on a pedastal the way they are in other NFL cities but fellow players shouldn’t be calling them out either and Ward was wrong to do so.

In 2005, Ward held out of training camp for the first two weeks in an effort to re-negotiate his contract and while pro sports figures often do this, it rarely sits well with their respective fan bases and Pittsburgh was no different. Ward was well into his career at this point so don’t try making comparisons to the current Mike Wallace situation because they are very different.

Either way, in a blue collar town where people struggle to make ends meet and live paycheck-to-paycheck, holding out for more money rarely endears you to the fans. As expected, Ward was criticized heavily.

Ward as a player has always been known to be a guy you loved having on your team but would hate if he were on any other. Often labled ‘the NFL’s dirtiest player,’ Ward never quit on plays and routinely would blow up opponents with vicious blocks many of which were of the blind-side variety.

After breaking the jaw of the Bengals’ Keith Rivers, the league instituted the ‘Hines Ward Rule’ where these types of blocks were eliminated. Frankly, great teams always seem to have a guy on them like Ward who does the dirty work and gets in the other teams’ head. A Bill Laimbeer, a Dennis Rodman, or a Bill Romanowski were examples of just what I’m talking about. Ya, I know Ward crossed the line at times but he was our guy and I understood the role if others didn’t.

As Ward’s career wound down recently, many thought Ward would return to some of the immaturity we had seen earlier in his career as the younger receivers like Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown were on the field more and more. To his credit, Ward did the right things and at least in public, never complained about what was happening. I have no doubt that internally he must have stewed but it rarely if ever was apparent.

Now comes the television part where Ward must analyze, give praise and criticize his former brethren in the NFL. Many former players who have gone before him have done just fine and some have struggled or gone overboard in one direction or another.

This is what most comments on my timeline regarded this week. How would Ward handle his analysis of his former team and more importantly, how would he deal with Roethlisberger?

Retired Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw has been one of the most successful athletes-turned-analysts in NFL TV history in large part due to his quirkiness, but he has had his share of issues criticizing his former team and especially Roethlisberger.

Fans often need to remember that we can’t always have our rose-colored glasses on when it comes to our team and former players-turned-analysts. While we would love to hear them sing our praises all of the time, that doesn’t bring in the viewers.

Behind his huge smile, I fully expect Ward to be critical of the Steelers when necessary and full of praise when it is appropriate. One thing we can be sure of however, is that whatever he says about the Steelers he will surely divide the fan base like he always has.


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